It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
So wrote Dickens in the opening lines of a Tale of Two Cities, a brilliant piece centred around the run up to the French Revolution and it’s immediate aftermath. Living in these times, ordinary people had been pushed to the point of no return, witnessing the excesses of the rich and privileged, they rose up and changed everything. That spirit of revolution spawned France’s national strap line ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ and if ever we needed that DNA in and around football we need it now. Indeed whilst our French neighbours are making their views on ‘these times’ clear 21 miles away, we may well wonder if things have changed, for good or bad.
With France in social meltdown, our football is now approaching that nadir. Forget the situation at West Ham, that is bagatelle compared with what is happening at Portsmouth, Liverpool and the mighty Manchester United. In a few weeks everything has changed and ultimately I believe this will be for the good of football and its fans. But the public gets what the public wants.
Liverpool and Manchester United have one thing in common. Very much in common. Both were/are owned by businessmen who have borrowed a ton of money to ‘buy’ the club, the money was easy, credit was everywhere and the good times flowed. Or did they? These clubs and mine, have been saddled by heavy debt and high interest rates effectively stopping them from being able to buy further success. Clubs owned by properly rich individuals – Manchester City and Chelsea – have been able to outgun both clubs in the transfer market. The youth teams of all of these clubs continue to produce players, but it seems that the clubs, their supporters and importantly fellow players are not patient enough to nurture the talent. Everyone wants a quick fix, immediate and continued success at all costs. Wayne Rooney has come in for a ton of stick this last week, and he does deserve some of it. But not all of it in my view. Here is a player who does care about his football and one who has seen the rot set in at Manchester United, the rot of the Glazer reign. Not only has he seen this, but Sir Alex Ferguson knows it. I am convinced that Rooney knows that times have changed and Manchester United under the Glazers will not be the same. They will not be able to buy talent in, not at least until the new rules about clubs having to make a profit come into play. Rooney will have passed his best by then. Ferguson would have laid down the gauntlet to Glazer and his family. Break the bank to keep his prize asset at the club or watch him leave to Manchester City or Real Madrid. Ferguson knows the regime, he is coming to the end of his reign and he will not like the methodolgy of these US businessmen one iota. Fair enough to play to the tune of the boss, if it is their money, but with people like the Glazers, Gillett and Hicks, it isn’t their money and their methods of ‘leveraging the brand’ have stymied the clubs royally. Given the new media world we live in, action and reaction take place at an unprecedented pace. The Glazers will not have expected to have a hike in their overheads at the beginning of the week, by the end of the week they have to find another £5m pa on their overhead. At least the extra cash may produce a result on the pitch, rather than an additional bonus to some Mayfair or Manhattan based hedge fund.
And then we see what has happened to poor old Pompey. A people’s club if ever there was one. I don’t know many Pompey fans anymore, but those I have known generally come from the area. We have seen a succession of chancers come and go on the South Coast. This bloke Gaydamark was another Abramovich, but substantially poorer. If these blokes are businessmen then Sonny Corleone is a puppy. Gaydamark ‘sold’ to some other ‘young entrepreneur’ Sulaiman Al Fahim (the fat geezer with a baseball cap who looked like he craved kebabs), who never had any money, it then passed to Al-Faraj who called in the administrators. A well documented mess of gigantic proportions and one that may result in Pompey being no more. Except it always will be a club so long as those supporters have the spirit. We are seeing it at FC United and at AFC Wimbledon, fan power makes a huge difference and surely that gives us all hope. I got an email from West Ham yesterday which talked about a club ‘owned by the fans for the fans’. I don’t think so. Until fans are given a seat at the table, permanently, football will always be subject to the whims of the free market. Historically fans are the ones who do not change, do not follow the money and above all care about that thing called their club. In these troubled times, we must not forge that.